TN families hit ‘income cliff’ when trying to get SNAP benefits

Published 9:12 am Friday, December 1, 2023

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With the next Farm Bill stalled in Congress and rising food insecurity in Tennessee, advocacy groups say there’s a pressing need to address a hurdle faced by lower-income working families.
About 750,000 Tennesseans receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. More would be eligible, if the state would implement a policy known as Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility.
Signe Anderson, senior director of nutrition advocacy at the Tennessee Justice Center, said it would allow the state to automatically qualify households for food assistance if they already receive other types of help – like childcare or housing assistance.
“The way that Broad Based Categorical Eligibility works is, you know, a mom could take the raise and not lose all of her benefits,” said Anderson. “Instead, the benefits get tapered down instead of maybe getting a $50 a month raise, which throws you above the poverty line.”
Tennessee is one of only eight states that doesn’t use this method to help qualify lower-income households for food assistance.
According to the latest census data, more than 13% of Tennesseeans live in poverty. Anderson said other states that have implemented the broad-based policy have not experienced significant changes, either in SNAP caseload or costs to the state.
“For Tennesseans, it would help families that fall between 131% and 150% of the poverty line,” she added. “In Tennessee, I think, based on some data from 2019, that could help anywhere from 7,000 to over 10,000 families.”
Anderson said it’s important to collaborate with Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Human Services Commissioner Clarence Carter to address food insecurity and expand outreach.

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